Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Utterly Forgettable: Lost In Space By Aimee Mann Is An Unfortunate Flop.

The Good: Good lyrics, Vocals are nice
The Bad: Absolutely no hook, Short, Instrumentally indistinct
The Basics: One of the weakest albums Aimee Mann ever produced, Lost In Space disappoints.

This past summer, I was working quite a bit in my car as I enumerated for the Census Bureau and that meant I had a chance to listen to more music than usual. That was a great thing for me. Alas, however, when I am plagued with albums which offer me nothing terribly exciting at all to listen to, such prolonged repeated listens are torture. This is where I fell on Lost In Space by Aimee Mann, an album I listened to eight times yesterday alone and the truth is it was so unremarkable that not one track sticks out in my mind, even after such an intense period of repetition. This never bodes well for an artist and truth be told, I am miffed that others have found so much to praise from this otherwise unremarkable album.

Aimee Mann is an artist whose works I have generally been enjoying, so much so that I’ve been surprised when I have heard a song by her on one of her albums and then learned she never attempted to release it as a single. Her song “Superball,” for example, is exactly the type of catchy pop number I would have thought would have worked wonders for Mann’s popular career. It has a hook, it is catchy, it is interesting, even if it is not terribly deep. There is no song like “Superball” on Lost In Space and instead the album falls down because there is nothing so distinctive. Instead, this is a gloomy album that has a fairly monotonal sound and when it comes to my usual habit of picking my favorite track, I almost feel like a tool picking “Pavlov’s Bell,” (it was featured on Buffy The Vampire Slayer) but the song is clever and that sets it apart from the rest of the album.

With only eleven tracks occupying 43:03 on the single c.d. version, Lost In Space is very much the result of Aimee Mann’s creative vision. Mann wrote nine of the songs and co-wrote the other two. She provides the lead vocals on each track and she plays all sorts of instruments on the album, from bass and guitar to the drums. The only creative aspect she was not involved in was the production of the album. It is hard to argue, given that she released it on her own label, that this was not the sound she wanted for herself.

Sadly, this is where Lost In Space falls down completely. The album is instrumentally arguably the dullest work Aimee Mann has ever produced. The songs are very mundane guitar, bass, drum tracks with little variation. My wife is constantly on me about the music I listen to and how it is almost all “chicks with guitars.” Sadly, with Lost In Space, I have little to combat her viewpoint with. That is exactly the sound Aimee Mann is creating with this album. The songs are all murky pop-rock songs that have no real catch or melody to them that is incredible or distinguished. I couldn’t hum a single tune from this album even after all the times I’ve listened to it (save “Pavlov’s Bell,” which is essentially a bass-driven dirge).

The lack of creativity seeps into Mann’s vocals on the album as well. Mann has a beautiful soprano voice and on this album she stays pretty much safely in that range. Where she vocally distinguishes herself is that she has a way of performing her songs where it sounds like she is whispering through them and yet she carries the melodies musically and that level of expressionism is uncommon in pop music, certainly today.

Lyrically, Aimee Mann is a clever poet. She writes with an intelligence that is uncommon in pop-rock music and she infuses a dark humor into many of her lines. When she sings “Because nobody knows, / That's how I nearly fell, / Trading clothes / And ringing Pavlov's Bell. / History shows / There's not a chance in hell. / But, oh, Mario, we're only to Ohio. / It's kinda getting harder to breathe. / I won't let it show, / I'm all about denial / But can't denial let me believe” (“Pavlov’s Bell”) it is hard not to get a chill down one’s spine. Mann sings with an eerie clarity and her lines are psychologically engaging and very different from other artists on the market.

However, even when Mann is being clever, she is sometimes forced to rely on very banal rhyme schemes. Like many artists, she sings about love and loss and Lost in Space is chock full of songs on the topic. On some of the songs, like “Invisible Ink,” she ends up sounding less smart and more like she is stretching for the right rhyme. Her lines “There comes a time when you swim or sink / So I jumped in the drink / Cuz I couldn't make myself clear / Maybe I wrote in invisible ink / Oh I've tried to think / How I could have made it appear / But another illustration is wasted / Cuz the results are the same / I feel like a ghost who's trying to move your hands / over some ouija board in the hopes I can spell out my name” (“Invisible Ink”) are not as original or poetic as they are rhyming.

Still, Mann does have something to say and she says it generally well. Some of her songs are little storysongs and they work well. Mann uncommonly explores obsession with “The Moth” when she wrote “The Moth don't care if The Flame is real, / 'Cause Flame and Moth got a sweetheart deal. / And nothing fuels a good flirtation, / Like Need and Anger and Desperation... / No, The Moth don't care if The Flame is real” and that song works very well on the page.

Sadly, Lost In Space works better as a book of poetry than as an album or concept album. Because the music is nothing terribly fresh or original sounding, it is impossible for me to recommend it and I suspect outside the loyal fanbase there is no surprise why this album did not do stellar.

The best track is “Pavlov’s Bell,” the low point is “This Is How It Goes.”

For other works by ‘Til Tuesday and/or Aimee Mann, please check out my reviews of:
Voices Carry - 'Til Tuesday
Welcome Home - 'Til Tuesday
Coming Up Close: A Retrospective - 'Til Tuesday
I'm With Stupid
Magnolia Soundtrack


For other music reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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